Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Where's Nemo's mommy?

So my two year old kid has now graduated from the excruciatingly boring "educational" videos featuring sock puppets, cuddly animals and mind numbingly repetitive music - to the far more tolerable feature films of Disney and Pixar.

Thankfully, she still spends far more time with books than with TV, but because of the marketing geniuses at Disney; the two have become intertwined. It all started when we were reading her favorite book, a "Where's Waldo" version of Finding Nemo. For some abjectly insane reason the thought occurred to me that she may want to see her beloved orange fish in animated form.

From the moment I fired up the video, she was absolutely entranced, far more than she's ever been with a "Baby Einstein" or some such. "It's Nemo!" she proudly proclaimed, as the three dimensional pixels danced across the screen.

For those of you who have never seen a Pixar movie, the animation is bright and vibrant - in every way absolutely stunning, even to grown up eyes. It simply blows away the production values of any "children's" programming or videos.

Two vibrant clown fish played and danced in and out of an anemone atop a brilliantly beautiful coral reef. "That's Coral and Marlin, Nemo's mommy and daddy." I said. My little girl was in heaven.

And then the barracuda showed up.

The very first scene of this movie has Nemo's mommy and all of his brothers and sisters (in egg form) eaten by a ferocious carnivore. Thankfully the bulk of the carnage is off camera, but the scene does involve big nasty teeth and a brief fight between the barracuda and Marlin (Nemo's dad). Marlin is knocked out and the screen goes black, he awakens to find his fish wife and all but one of his children's eggs gone. He cradles the remaining egg (Nemo) and sobs and swears to protect his new son. All of this before the opening credits.

This continues in the grand Disney form of dead or dying parents - from Bambi's mother being blown away by a hunter (a moment which I will NEVER forget seeing on the big screen, I must have been five or six years old). To the lion king's daddy getting trampled to death by a herd of wildebeest. Even so, I was really concerned that I had goofed up by letting my two year old see death and it's fallout (even in a very family friendly fashion) so early in life. Thankfully, I think she handled it well.

After seeing the opening scene, my daughter turned to me and asked simply "Where's Nemo's mommy?" She had watched the entire scene unfold, unblinking, and had totally grasped (for the most part) what she had seen. As gently as I could I tried to clarify what had happened, and at that point the story flash forwarded to Marlin and his young son Nemo going to the first day of school. Happy, colorful, joyful images took over.

My little girl watched the entire remainder of the movie, becoming distracted only a handful of times. She got upset and scared, and needed the arms of daddy, for the few intense scenes (a shark chase, a deep sea dive with a sharp toothed monster fish, a whale swallowing Marlin and his friend Dori) but overall I could tell she really enjoyed it. Having read the book thousands of times, she constantly pointed out to me when places and fish showed up that she recognized.

She even got tremendously excited at the happy emotional highlights, especially when Marlin finally finds his kidnapped son. In the final scene, Nemo gives his dad a big hug - at which point my own little girl spun to wrap her arms around me. She had watched the whole thing, and gotten the story. She seemed genuinely relieved and thrilled to have made the journey with Marlin and Dori to find Nemo.

This was over a month ago. To this day she asks to watch "Nemo" all the time. Most days we say no or distract her - but we do allow it 2 or 3 times a week. She loves following the story, exclaiming excitedly at her favorite parts, still a bit timid and clingy during the scary scenes. She anticipates these moments with a fearful whine and a run to daddy or mommy. We hold her and remind her that she's seen this story before and everything turns out good.

I do have concerns that this may have been a bit much for my daughter, to see such an intense story at so young an age. True, most two year olds I've encountered wouldn't have necessarily even comprehended the Nemo book, let alone a feature film designed to entertain adults as much as children. But my kid isn't most two year olds. She gets the story, and she talks about it with me when she's lying down for bed. Even if she hasn't actually seen the movie in several days. The story, the sacrifices the characters make - the perilous adventures they go on, all have made a big impact on my little girls psyche.

But I think she's fine with it, and in some ways I think it's good for her.

In a very real way, her path in life mirrors the story of "Finding Nemo" itself. Marlin from the beginning promises Nemo that nothing will ever happen to him. Later, Dori, Marlin's fish friend, correctly points out that this promise is silly. "If nothing ever happened to him, then NOTHING would ever happen to him!"

And so it goes with kids.


Elizabeth said...

For some reason I just now got around to reading this. As a totally unbiased reader, I congratulate you on relating a moving story. Raising a brilliant little girl in this confusing cultural era has to be an incredible challenge. Thanks for sharing how you handled the inevitable meeting of child and medium.

Anonymous said...

that was a vary interesting story.did you want to be in the movie more?